On the Day of Easter which we celebrate today, we sometimes forget the powerful spiritual message of this day. To see the future clearly, first we need to look back. So we begin this Easter morning by looking back to the day of the first Easter, the day of the Resurrection.
In scripture we read about the struggle of the people who were oppressed by the Roman Empire. Jesus came among them to renew their faith and give them a way to struggle together – and to live with each other in love and unity. It was a cruel empire that corrupted the religious leaders of the people and suppressed the poor with great cruelty to keep them afraid, a cruelty that was witnessed in the terrible crucifixion of Jesus.
To us this history is very important because we exist today in a “New Rome” . What makes up the “new Rome” we live in? The new Rome is now governed by the Billionaire CEO’s, the Generals and the Racial Reactionaries. The new Rome is headed by an individualistic President who seeks only to remain popular through building an authoritarian political and social power. If making war makes him popular he will do that. If deporting millions of people will make him popular, then he will do that too.
In the new Rome we see the government marginalizing people of color through the criminalization of our communities, mass incarceration and mass deportation, privatization of health care and education so that it is unaffordable to the poor, unleashing private corporations to destroy the environment and propping up the ability of the billionaire corporations to extract profits from the world by maintaining a very expensive and very dangerous military empire.
And what stands against this New Rome in the United Sates? Today, as it was two thousand years ago, it is first of all the people Jesus called into being through diaspora communities of faith and resistance. Sometimes we act as if we were just observers, trying to survive as best we can. In fact, you are major players in this drama!
The drama some of us acted out on Friday downtown was too real. Think about the children who were there and the situation they face. So many of our congregation have been targeted for criminalization and deportation: from local police and federal immigration agents, criminal and immigration courts. Our congregation has also been marginalized from health care and from a quality education and good paying jobs.
Yet we are also the people that Jesus called to resist – to inspire the resistance of the oppressed everywhere – by becoming the body of Christ, by welcoming the Kingdom of God to come alive among us.
This year in our spiritual journey, we have been traveling with Jesus as he announced that the Kingdom of God could live among us and in us, as he gathered and taught his disciples, as he confronted that first Roman Empire and its control of his people and as he marched into Jerusalem and paid the price with his life.
Now we too are living in the season of Resurrection. Like the disciples, we don’t quite believe in it. We are afraid. We are disorganized. We are stressed out and struggling. We don’t believe in ourselves. We don’t believe that we could rise together from our individualism and greed and petty fears and distrusts to form the people of God which Jesus is calling into being, the communities of faith and resistance, the communities in which the Kingdom of God comes alive and inspires the transformation of the world. We will live in this spiritual season of Resurrection for seven weeks.
For the next seven weeks, through the appearances in scripture of the resurrected Jesus to the disciples and the people, we will review the gifts that Jesus revealed to us, the gifts that will help us in the formation of a people of God, the formation of our communities of faith and resistance. We must do more than read or hear about these gifts. We are called to live them.
The first of these gifts is the gift of baptism, the gift we call a sacrament in our church, a gift through which we are joined immediately in the experience of God and touched by the Kingdom of God, a gift through which we are joined with each other in a new way - in the Kingdom of God, in the Word and in the Spirit.
Remember that the movement which Jesus came to lead was begun by John who baptized thousands. John said “I baptize you in water but one will come who will baptize you in the fire of the Holy Spirit.” The baptism of Jesus was the crucifixion and resurrection he would endure to demonstrate to the people that the Kingdom of God offered to them was more powerful than the Roman Empire that oppressed them.
Other prophet leaders had been killed before Jesus and others would follow his murder. We have known some of them. Yet even in their murders, the Spirit of Justice and Love, the “other reality” of righteousness and goodness, not only survived but became stronger among the people. Why?
When you see the powerful actually take someone’s life, an innocent life, and you also see that others become stronger in their commitment and their unity and their resistance, you begin to know that there is a wealth of righteousness and love that is much greater than the wealth of the world, that there is a power to the Kingdom of God which cannot be destroyed by the power which evil men have assembled on the earth. You see that power because you see resurrection after crucifixion.
Today we seek to understand the reality of baptism, the reality which baptism reveals to us. Sometimes in the church we reduce the meaning of baptism – and yet its reality lives in our celebrations of family and community. We just have to look more deeply into them.
In baptism, you choose to die to the world so that you can be reborn as part of the people of God, sharing His Kingdom among you. The Romans killed Jesus, put him to death. In the sacrament, you are asked to choose to die to the world in the faith that you will be reborn in the life of the People of God, in love and unity and righteousness. If you are sincere in your baptism, your faith becomes stronger because you really are reborn. You really are changed! You really are given a new chance to begin your life again!
Just as the disciples and Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdelene, his wife and first disciple, watched Jesus suffer and die on the cross, so have we watched people we love arrested and humiliated and deported. Others have been given ominous notice that their time will come soon. Our faith is challenged. We are unsure that resurrection will follow crucifixion.
Today we walk with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome to the tomb where Jesus was buried. They came just to anoint his dead body. Yet when they arrived the great stone was rolled back. Inside were his clothes but the body of Jesus was gone!
Instead of the dead and mutilated body they saw this: “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’
They were struck with awe! They were witness to a reality that they had never really fully believed in, a kingdom of God that could overcome death, that was more powerful than the worst thing the world could do to them!
Yet if we understand the whole story of Jesus – and of other prophets who have given their lives for us – we understand what Jesus explained in his own words: that he and his teaching and his life were seeds from which the people of God would grow.
When seeds are planted in the ground then shortly the corn breaks through into the light. You see the corn stalks and watch them grow until the ears of corn themselves come from the stalks. You see the corn but you no longer see the seed, as the woman could not see the body of Jesus in the tomb – yet the seed has not disappeared. It is alive in the corn! It was buried beneath the soil but now it lives in the light, seeds that have become a whole field of corn!
That is what Jesus said about his baptism, about his death and resurrection. He would be crucified, shamed and tortured. He would endure this suffering – because he knew that once buried he would rise again as the people of God, the field of corn that would come from the seeds!
Today, we begin again. We have been struggling. We have been fighting these cases. We have been reaching out and preparing others to defend themselves. We have begun joining together to help each other to survive.
Now today, again this year, we begin the formation of the people of God, of the communities of faith and resistance for which Jesus and the prophets prepared us.
As some of us really saw the crucified Jesus on Friday in front of the immigration courts, as many of us have seen the crucified Jesus in those who have been arrested, in the children who suffer, in those who have died in the “violence of Rome” here and in Latin America – so today, open your eyes and your hearts to see the Resurrected Jesus!
The angel told the women to gather the disciples and return to their community in Galilee where Jesus would appear to them. There Jesus would tell them how to see him. Jesus himself told them to look among themselves and they would find him, find the Kingdom of God in their midst.
Let the shock of the empty tomb sink in to you now as it once shocked Mary. God is present. Our God is a present God who intervenes in this world. Then look into each other’s eyes: see the people of God growing again this year. In God’s time you are reborn today! It is the time of formation, the formation of the people of God!
It is the time for us to accept God’s Kingdom among us. It is the time to join together in organization and purpose, to trust where we have distrusted each other, to hope together where we have despaired and cried together, to struggle together where we have struggled only for ourselves.
Some will say we already have our communities, our churches, our organizations, our families and friends – but Jesus says we have not truly made the commitments we need to make, we have not truly become a community together in responsibility and in action, in love and in the Spirit. You see, we have not truly trusted ourselves to each other. We don’t trust each other’s commitment to the faith and the community because we don’t truly trust our own commitment. In truth, we don’t trust God! We don’t trust Jesus – but Jesus is alive and well. Jesus Lives! Cristo vive! And now Jesus calls us again. He gives us the choice to be born again!
We have formed together but we have not surrendered ourselves to a formation in the Spirit. When we surrender ourselves to that spiritual formation together then we will see the fruits of a powerful organization that grows each day. That is what God offers you today.
Experience your baptism again this day and every day this week. Every morning when you see the light of day replace the darkness of night, look to the heavens which give you that new day. The Lord is reaching out his hand to touch you, to take away your fears and your distrust, to wipe clean your sins and give you new life!
The Resurrection has begun. We no longer wait for someone to save us – we will form communities of resistance and save ourselves, because God is with us, because we are beingformed again in His Kingdom, in His love and in His justice.
In the next seven weeks we are called to form again our community of faith, our resistance, in a new way. Today we are BAPTIZED in the Holy Spirit! Today FORMATION TIME begins again!
The Resurrection has begun in God’s time – let it begin in ours, for in truth, our time is His time and he grows impatient! Give us the faith to do his will!
The Holy Scriptures for the First Sunday in the Resurrection
L. He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. P. The field is the world, L. The good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. P. and the harvesters are angels.
Mark 10: 32-38 The Baptism of Jesus
32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
Mark 15: 33-36 The Death of Jesus
33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[ When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Mark 16: 1-8 Jesus Has Risen
16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.